Matthew 8 and 9 is a collection of miracle stories. Chapter 10 contains the second block of teaching material found in Matthew. The subject of this block of material is the mission to which Christ commissions his disciples.
Three major motifs are intertwined through the collection of nine (or ten) miracles found in Matthew 8 and 9. The first motif is that of Jesus' power and authority. The emphasis on authority flows out of Matthew's conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:29 spoke of Jesus teaching with "authority." Chapters 8 and 9 make it clear that Jesus' authority was not limited to teaching. He had power over sickness, the demonic, and death. Such power and authority would naturally attract people to Jesus. The second motif of this section is people's response to Jesus and his ministry. A variety of responses appear in these chapters. Jesus is worshipped, acclaimed as Messiah, believed by a gentile centurion, praised by some, rejected by others, and largely ignored by a crowd that remains passive throughout this section. The final motif in chapters 8 and 9 is discipleship. Repeatedly the word "follow" appears in these chapters. Obviously, the proper response to Jesus is to become his disciple and follow him wherever he might lead.
Healing the Paralytic - Matthew 9:1-8
The story of the healing of the paralytic is best known from its version in Mark 2:1-12. The picture of the four friends who carried the paralyzed man on a stretcher and let him down through the roof is a favorite among teachers and preachers. Matthew, however, makes no mention of the press of the crowds that barred the paralytic from coming to Jesus. He omits the delightful story of the friends carrying him to the roof, opening a hole, and letting him down in front of Jesus. Matthew cuts away every detail that is not necessary to bring us quickly to Jesus' pronouncement, "Cheer up, my child, your sins are forgiven." At this point Matthew begins to follow Mark's version of the story much more closely. This tells us that Matthew's chief purpose in recounting this miracle is the question of Jesus' authority to forgive sins.
Modern people often separate spiritual and physical needs so that we see no connection between healing and the forgiveness of sins. First century Judaism would have assumed some connection. John 9:2 shows that physical disability or disease was often assumed to have been the result of sin. For healing to take place, one had to find out what the sin was and to try to make atonement for it. John 9:3 confirms the message of Job. There is no simple one-to-one correspondence between a person's health and their spiritual condition. Modern folks need to avoid the conclusion that there is no connection at all between sin and sickness, but we do not need to cluck our tongues about the sins of anybody who happens to be sick.
The scribes do not deny the connection either. They would have agreed when Jesus told the paralytic. "You are a sinner. That is why you are paralyzed. You need to be forgiven." Their objection came when Jesus himself pronounced forgiveness of the man's sins. Forgiveness was God's business and they immediately recognized Jesus' announcement as a claim of being equal with God. At that point they were completely correct and it was and remains the chief sticking point between Judaism and the Christian faith.
Verse 4 continues the emphasis on Jesus' authority. Not only does he claim the right to forgive sins, but he also sees and knows the intentions of people's heart. This was also an ability that Judaism ascribed to God. The question, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk," recognizes the intimate connection between spiritual and physical health. The point is that neither is difficult to say but only God can actually forgive sins and heal a paralyzed body. The scribes cannot answer the question because either response requires that Jesus be acting on behalf of God or that he actually be God. Jesus then continues by proving his authority (key word in this section) by healing the paralytic. Matthew repeats the word "authority" in verse 8 as he comments on the crowd's reaction.
The Call of Matthew - Matthew 9:9-13
The next paragraph reports the call to discipleship of a man named Matthew and a meal with tax-collectors and sinners. Whether or not the scribes accepted Jesus' claim to be able to forgive sins Matthew illustrates what forgiveness of a sinner looked like. Because Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 mention an apparently identical event with a person named "Levi" Christian tradition has always assumed that the change from Levi to Matthew was the "signature" of the author of the first gospel.
More importantly for the context is that Matthew was a tax-collector in Capernaum. The evidence of ancient history suggests that his job was the collection of tolls on goods crossing the frontier between the territories of Herod Antipas and Herod Philip. Thus, he would have been what we call a customs officer concerned with collecting import and/or export taxes on trade goods. The division of tetrarchies between Antipas and Philip had been instituted by Rome (see Palestine Under the Herods), but it divided territory that Judaism considered to be part of Israel's heritage. Thus Jews were taxed when they did business with other Jews in the other tetrarchy. They saw such taxes as Roman robbery of money that rightfully belonged to them. The tax collectors were the immediate objects of the hatred that was really directed against Rome. This hatred increased when the tax-collector himself was a Jew as Matthew was.
The kindest word Jews used for tax-collectors was "sinner." Thus in verse 9 Jesus called into discipleship a tax-collector who was a sinner. The invitation to discipleship includes implicitly the offer of forgiveness of sins. To accept the call to discipleship was to receive that forgiveness. Verses 10-13 make this even clearer. In Jewish culture of that time eating with another person was to enter into a covenant of friendship with them. It was to accept them and to affirm their worth. To eat with sinners meant accepting them as they were. From the perspective of the Pharisees that meant becoming a sinner yourself by not denouncing the sinners and their sins. For Jesus, eating with sinners became a way of offering forgiveness and grace to them. The question of the Pharisees, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" really meant, "Don't you know that by eating with them he becomes a sinner himself?"
Jesus' response shows his own sense of separation from the Pharisee's view. He was the divine physician. The sick needed his ministry and their return to [spiritual] health was his calling, not holding the hands of the well. His conclusion, "I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners," is rarely adopted by his followers.
Verse 13 issues a stern challenge to the Pharisees to learn to read the Scriptures correctly. "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," quotes Hosea 6:6. The expression, "Go and learn," was a rabbinical expression implying that they were superficial in their interpretation of the Scripture being quoted. It means, "Go, think more deeply, study and meditate until you arrive at the true meaning." One can see a conflict in ways of understanding holiness in this passage. The Pharisees viewed holiness in terms of separation from sin by separation from sinners and avoidance of things that could defile them. For Jesus, holiness was mercy, grace, and love that did not evaluate people's worth on the basis of their past actions. This is quite similar to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about emulating God's perfection in love (Matthew 5:43-48).
The Issue of Fasting - Matthew 9:14-17
Fasting was one of the hallmarks of Judaism in the ancient world. Some fasted because they feared that demons could enter food and thus enter and possess a person. Fasting lessened the chances of demonic possession. However, Jews usually saw fasting as an act of penance or mourning. It was often used to seek forgiveness of sins. Assuming that the disciples of John the Baptist were correct that both they and the Pharisees fasted often, it was an unusual thing that Jesus' disciples did not fast. Their question was both normal and accusing.
Jesus' response clearly "fits" the context of these chapters in Matthew. Given the Jewish view of fasting, it was quite inappropriate when the bridegroom, Jesus, was present. They did not need to fast to be forgiven of sins. Jesus freely forgave sinners without their even asking. They did not need to fast in order to convince God to heal them. Jesus graciously healed without the persons' penance or prayer. The only reason Jesus' disciples should fast would be to mourn if the bridegroom were to be taken away from them. But Matthew 28:20, "I am with you always," shows we need not fear that.
The question of the disciples of John the Baptist accuses Jesus of breaking the old patterns, a charge he does not deny. The parable of the new cloth and the new wineskins makes that very point. The old garment and old wineskins of the Pharisees' religious traditionalism could not contain the new patch and new wine of Jesus' teaching. The call for new wineskins is clear indication that Jesus anticipated the rise of a new structure (the church) to "contain" the new wine of his teaching. The ever-present danger of the church now is that we become old wineskins, inflexible and incapable of stretching. Should that happen God would to seek new vessels capable of containing the truth of Christ's message.
More Healings - Matthew 9:18-34
The third set of miracles in Matthew 8 and 9 is found in 9:18-34. Like 8:1-17, the theme in this section is faith. The first story, found in verses 18-26, combines the raising of the ruler's daughter from the dead and the healing of the woman with a flow of blood. Comparison with the parallel accounts in Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56 shows how drastically Matthew can edit out details that he does not view as necessary to the main point. It is from the parallels that we learn that the ruler was a ruler of a synagogue and that his name was Jairus. In the parallels Jairus comes desperately seeking Jesus' help because his daughter is deathly ill. On the trip to Jairus house, the message comes that she has died. Matthew compressed all those details into a single plea from the ruler for Jesus to come so that his daughter who has died can live.
The one place Matthew increases detail is in verse 23 with the reference to the flute players. The culture of ancient Palestine expected funerals to have hired flute players playing shrill notes and hired mourners shouting out expressions of grief. The mention of the flute players shows that finality of the girl's death. The funeral was almost to begin! This shows that her raising was an authentic miracle, not simply the reviving of someone who had fainted.
Set in the journey to Jairus' house is the story of the healing of the woman with a flow of blood. The phrase in the Greek text suggests that the woman's problem was a menstrual disorder, perhaps a light flow throughout the month. Leviticus 15:25-26 states that such a condition made the woman - and everything she touched -ceremonially unclean. Her desire to touch Jesus reflects a magical view that healing power would flow somewhat automatically from him if he were touched. Matthew rejects such a view by making her healing the result of the spoken word of Jesus and by omitting the comment in Mark and Luke that power had gone out of Jesus when she touched him. Matthew also omits Jesus' question about who touched him. The result of Matthew's story is that Jesus is seen to have the power to discern the woman's thought and needs no information to understand what had happened. The compression of details highlighted Jesus’ statement to the woman that it was her faith that brought her deliverance.
Verses 27-31 recount the healing of two blind men. Matthew also contains the story of the healing of two blind men in 20:29-34, which appears to be his parallel to the healing of blind Bartimaeus described in Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35-45. The other gospels have no parallel for this account in Matthew 9. The appeal of these two blind men is for mercy and they address Jesus as "Son of David." This is the first time this title appears in Matthew's gospel though the information can be found in the genealogy in chapter 1.
Son of David appears to have been used by some Jews as a messianic title. The Psalms of Solomon portray a very militaristic messiah using the title Son of David. The fact that an appeal for mercy and the title, Son of David, appear together here, in Matthew 15:22, and in Matthew 20:30-31 has caused some scholars to argue that Jews expected the Davidic Messiah to be a merciful figure. Others have argued that healing would be a characteristic of the Son of David. Our uncertainty at this point reveals how little actual evidence we have of the variety of Jewish expectations and hopes for the messiah.
The key elements in this story are the emphasis on the faith of the two blind men and their use of the title Lord in verse 28. It is possible that Matthew wished to portray a progression of faith from calling Jesus Son of David to calling him Lord. However, it is also possible to translate the response of the blind men in verse 28 as "Yes, sir." The strong emotional comment of Jesus in verse 30 is also noteworthy. The Greek term suggests an angry, snorting rebuke, "See to it that you tell no one!" This is most understandable if Jesus knew that the two blind men saw him as a militaristic messiah.
The final healing miracle in Matthew 8 and 9 is the healing of the mute man described in 9:32-34. The Greek word describing him was used both for deaf and for dumb persons. Such diseases were often considered the result of demon possession in the ancient world. The fact that the one who had been mute spoke when the demon had been cast out suggests that muteness rather than deafness was his problem. The response of the crowd affirms the uniqueness of this healing. It was also an implicit accusation against the Jewish religious leaders for their failure to make the power of God available to their people.
Conclusion and Transition - Matthew 9:35-38
Matthew 9:35 is almost identical to Matthew 4:23. The repetition of this summary of Jesus' ministry suggests that Matthew saw chapters 5-9 as a single section in his gospel showing the authority of Jesus both in teaching and in healing. It is clear in this section that titles of Jesus, such as Son of David, Lord, and son of man, do not provide adequate insight into his full identity. Only by hearing him preach and experiencing his healing can one realize the genuine identity of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
Verse 36 describes Jesus' motivation in healing as compassion. Modern Christians tend to think of Jesus' compassion as the main motivation for all his miracles. That may be true, but only rarely do the gospels say so. This is one of those places that affirm compassion as a reason for the healing miracles. However, verse 36 does not identify their sickness and disease as the reason for his compassion. It was the disruption of their lives and loss of God's peace that seemed to move Jesus. He saw the people as "harassed and beaten down, like sheep without a shepherd." That healing was his response to this emotional disintegration reveals a very important truth. People can endure horrible sickness if their hope and outlook remains strong. On the other hand, people who are profoundly discouraged and depressed suffer illness much more frequently than happy persons. For harassed and beaten down people physical healing was not all they needed. However, God's healing touch in their lives awakened hope that He would also restore the other damaged arenas of their lives. We need to remember that simply meeting people's physical needs will never be enough. At best it is the first step to the renewal of hope and vision.
The section ends with Jesus' command to pray that God would raise up workers for the harvesting of people's lives. Chapter 10 begins by naming the apostles and continues Jesus' teaching on how they are to conduct their mission. In this way Matthew 9:35-38 prepares for chapter 10.
Teaching on Mission - Matthew 10
Matthew 10 contains four major sections: verses 1-4; 5-15; 16-39; and 40-42. Chapter 9 ends with a prayer for harvesters to be sent out into the field. Chapter 10 begins by describing the answer to that prayer - the twelve disciples named and given authority to cast out demons and heal diseases. There are four key points in verses 1-4. The disciples are commissioned to ministry; they are not given exalted status. Matthew uses the word "apostles" to describe them in verse 2. The Jewish concept of apostle was much more than a person sent on a mission. It was an authorization to represent the person who sent them. The disciples were called to represent Jesus in his ministry of re-interpreting the Scriptures to focus on self-giving love rather than legal requirements. They were to represent Christ in reaching out to the untouchables of their society. They were to risk confrontation with religious leaders to do God’s will. Their authority was for ministry not for clout.
Second the ministry of the disciples was to be virtually identical to that of Jesus. Authority over unclean spirits, casting out demons, and healing every kind of sickness and disease - the disciples’ commission according to verse 1 - is exactly what Jesus had done in chapters 8 and 9.
Third Matthew emphasizes the number 12. It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus under-stood that the twelve represented the creation of new Israel. As the 12 patriarchs founded old Israel the 12 apostles would begin the new Israel. Finally, as the following verses will show their ministry is for the renewal and restoration of Israel. They are to prepare their own people for the coming of the kingdom of God.
Verses 5-15 provide specific instructions for this mission. First, the disciples are to go only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." This expression connects the reader’s mind back to the reference to the people being "sheep without a shepherd" in 9:37. The shepherding ministry of the disciples will be patterned after the shepherding ministry of Jesus. It is also an important reminder to us who are Gentiles that God did not send Christ with the intention of abandoning the Jewish people. As the apostle Paul would say, "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (see Romans 1:16 and 2:9, 10).
Second, the disciples are commissioned to do exactly as Jesus has done. Verse 8 commands them to fulfill the exact same ministry that Jesus accomplished in chapters 8 and 9. From that comes the third instruction - that the disciples are to carry out their mission without regard to payment. Their ministry was given to them freely; it must be given by them freely. When we understand how generous God has been to us we will be generous in giving our time and energies to ministry for him. The disciples are to go without money, without extra clothes or spare sandals, or even a staff to protect themselves. Ministry means trusting God. When we try to provide security, honor, or benefits we destroy the total dependence on God that is the essence of the kingdom. It is also more difficult to shake off the dust of our feet when we become heavily invested materially in the outcome of ministry.
Finally, the disciples are told to seek out worthy hosts in whatever town or village they enter. The worthiness of the host will be determined by whether or not that host accepts and supports the ministry of the disciples. If the host accepts them, the disciples are to extend peace to the host. This peace refers to the blessings of the messianic age. If the would-be host refuses to accept and honor the message and messengers of Christ, the blessings of the messianic age will not be available. However, the disciples were to collect no guilt for the decisions of other people regarding the message of Christ. If they were rejected, they were to shake off the dust of your feet and move on to a more receptive audience.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to help you understand the Scriptures and to apply its meaning to your own heart and life.
First Day: Read the notes on Matthew 9:1-10:15.Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Why are they important?
2. Is there a spiritual truth in Matthew 9:1-10:15 that is especially significant for you? Write it down and explain why it is important for you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking God to help you give yourself to the kind of ministry that he would commission you to provide for helpless and harassed people.
Second Day: Read Matthew 10:5-42. Now focus on Matthew 10:16-23.
1. What do you think Jesus meant by the figure of speech in verse 16 about being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Give an example of how obedience to this would look in your own life.
2. Why in verse 19 does Jesus command the disciples not to worry? In what way can you extend the promise of verse 20 to apply to circumstances of your life in which you are tempted to worry?
3. The assumption of these verses is a time of persecution. Why do you think Jesus warned the disciples about persecution? In what ways do you think followers of his experience persecution today? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
Third Day: Read Matthew 10:16-42. Focus in on Matthew 10:24-33.
1. Summarize verses 24-25 in your own words. What is Jesus’ point in these verses? How does it apply to us today?
2. Do the promises and commands of verse 26-27 bring encouragement or fear to you? Why? Do you think Jesus intended these verses as encouraging or to motivate fear? Why?
3. Give some examples from real life that involved people acknowledging Christ before others and that involved people denying Christ before others. Are there subtle ways in which you are tempted to deny him?
Fourth Day: Read Matthew 10:26-42. Focus your attention on Matthew 10:34-42.
1. How would you relate Jesus’ words in verses 34-36 to contemporary Christian teachings about the central importance of the family? How does verse 34 fit with our songs about the peace of Christ?
2. What is the central point of verses 37-39? What are the things that most likely for us to place above Christ? Are we ever called to lose our lives for Christ’s sake? How?
3. Verse 42 speaks of giving a cup of cold water to bring relief to the weary disciples on their mission. What are some acts of kindness that could be a "cup of cold water" to relieve and encourage someone you know in the ministry?
Fifth Day: Read Matthew 11:1-19. Now focus in on Matthew 11:1-6.
1. Matthew 10 gives Jesus’ instructions to the disciples for their mission. What do you learn in these focus verses about what they actually did on their mission? Why do you think Matthew made the transition he did in verse 1?
2. Do you believe John the Baptist was in the wrong to send his followers with the question of verse 3 for Jesus? Is Jesus’ answer a rebuke, an encouragement, or something else?
3. How does Jesus’ answer in verse 5 relate to Matthew 8 and 9? What does your answer tell you about why Matthew organized his material the way he did in chapters 8-10?
Sixth Day: Read Matthew 11:1-19. Now focus on Matthew 11:7-19.
1. Why do you think people went out into the desert to hear John the Baptist? How does your answer compare with what Jesus said in verses 7-9? What was Jesus’ point in these verses?
2. Verse 10 contains a quotation from Malachi 4:5. Read all of Malachi 4. What other passages in that chapter seem to speak of either Christ or John the Baptist?
3. Summarize the main idea of verses 16-19 in your own words. If Jesus and John the Baptist had preached in our culture last year, what expressions might Jesus use to express that same point today? What does that tell us about what we need to be doing as followers of Christ?